Most Americans are familiar with the names of the major wine-producing regions in France, and this one is no exception. Bordeaux is city in the southwest of France known for the fine wines produced in the surrounding region. However, grapes are hardly the only menu items Bordeaux is known for. True to its nature as a port city, fish and seafood is prevalent in Bordelais cuisine, but you’ll also find lots of beef and lamb dishes, which pair perfectly with the region’s famous wines.
I’m not going to pretend, I didn’t enjoy this meal very much. The food was delicious, but my partner and I did not work together very well at all, and the tension between us put a real damper on the day. It’s absolutely infuriating to work with someone who clearly doesn’t even trust you to hold a spoon, let alone make any meaningful contribution to the dish that you are supposed to be working together on. I managed to hold in my growing annoyance until finally, while quickly sorting through a pile of almonds to use as a garnish for our dessert, my partner reached over to pick out a broken nut I’d accidentally missed the first time and angrily admonished, “You should really be more careful!!”
The thing that was most aggravating wasn’t his attitude or his sense of superiority, or the fact I was being reprimanded by a peer for doing a perfectly adequate job at what was really just a minor task. It was more that he managed to touch the nerve of something that has been on my mind for a few weeks now.
I recently watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which i can’t recommend with anything less than the highest of acclamations. The subject is an 85-year-old sushi maker, who goes to work every day at his little 10-seat restaurant in Tokyo, and makes his sushi with a dedication to his craft that is simply a privilege to witness. The integrity and perseverance that Jiro shows every day making sushi is more than most people show at anything in their lives. I’ve never been a perfectionist, and I’m not particularly bothered by my lack of perfection. Despite his worldwide fame and his 3 Michelin stars, Jiro would certainly never argue that he is perfect at his work, either…but he does aim for it in a way I’ve never been particularly inclined.
The interesting thing about Jiro is that he doesn’t really see himself as being particularly outstanding. In this cutthroat world, we’re trained to pick out our own best aspects, write them on our resumes, and “sell” ourselves to others. But Jiro doesn’t speak of his incredible drive or talent, or credit any superior intelligence or ability. He doesn’t go through a list of achievements, or tell us all the great things he’s done or is capable of doing. Instead, he has this to say about his success: “Once you decide on your occupation, You must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate yourself to mastering your skill.”
And that is the secret of success. It doesn’t even matter what all you’ve won or what you say you can do, it’s just a matter of doing. Jiro sees himself as a fairly normal man, just one who has worked hard and stayed passionate about his work, who doesn’t allow himself “off” nights, and treats every dish as if it were being prepared for a king. In Jiro’s world, unlike my own, there is no room for accidentally missing a single broken almond. Every almond on every plate deserves the same high quality perfection. That attitude is what sets him apart from the crowd, and sets him above the throngs of people who are entirely content with being good at something, but not quite great.
I pride myself on working hard, and I’ve been known to work a lot of overtime in the kitchen, simply because I love being there. I LOVED my job back at home. Like anyone, there were mornings it was hard to get out of bed, but I never felt like I really didn’t want to go–which is a true blessing, to wake up every day and look forward to what you’re going to do. I cared about it, I loved my customers, and I wanted to do my best. But I think my biggest fault is that I DO allow myself “off nights,” I make excuses for it, and I allow myself these periods of complacency.
I think my partner’s criticism of my “carelessness”—angry as it might have made me–perhaps woke me up to the fact that the food I’m making isn’t just for me, and there’s no longer room for my old complacency. It’s myself, my guests, and every member of my team who are affected by how well I do my job. It made me reconsider my work ethic, and the mindset in which I approach everything I do.
I’ve got a lot to learn from examples like Jiro. So many people would easily dismiss a man like that with a simple “they don’t make ’em like that anymore,” but I don’t see why not. It’s not rocket science. I don’t think its true that you’re either born with passion for something or you aren’t…I think passion is developed and must be maintained. It comes when you dedicate your life to mastering something—a conscious decision. It begins with setting your goals high, your expectations higher, and nourishing within yourself a desire to achieve these goals and expectations. Its a matter of overcoming simple carelessness in your life. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but with that revelation, I’m on my way.
…that upright integrity, that strict adherence to truth and principle, that disdain of trick and littleness, which a man should display in every transaction of his life.”
― Jane Austen, Emma